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Social housing explained

Social housing is housing rented out by councils, housing associations and housing cooperatives. Social homes are the only permanent solution to the housing emergency.

Its value

Social housing provides social tenants with:

  • genuinely affordable housing

  • secure long-term tenancies

  • strong rights

'My kids would finally have their own space which would really help their mental and physical health. I could finally start to pursue my aspirations without having to spend all my time fighting to give us a decent and permanent place to live.'

Angela shares what social housing means to her and her family.

How it should work

Be affordable

Social homes are the most affordable housing option for many people. Rents for social homes are usually significantly lower than private rents.

Rent increases are also limited. This means homes should stay more affordable long-term so people are not priced out of their communities by rising rents.

Be stable

People in social housing usually have Scottish secure tenancies, giving them greater protection from eviction and enhanced rights compared to those renting privately. They provide the foundation people need to get on in life, meaning families can put down roots, plan for the future and make their house a home.

Be there for people who need it

Social housing should be there for anyone who needs or wants it.

Currently, people who apply are added to waiting lists. Houses are offered based on need, but even those with high priority can face long waits. In some cases people are stuck in temporary accommodation for years.

Unfortunately, the current chronic shortage of social homes means there are not even enough social homes for the people who most urgently need it – including those experiencing homelessness.

Be quality-controlled

On average, social homes are more likely to meet the standard for ‘decent’ housing. They are better insulated, more energy efficient, and more likely to have working smoke alarms than other types of housing.

Over the years, investment in maintaining and improving homes has been patchy, and social housing today is far from perfect. That’s why we will keep fighting until Scotland has enough decent homes for all.

The problem we're facing

  • 110,000 households on waiting lists for a social home across Scotland.
    (Scottish household survey: 2021)

  • 9,860 children stuck in temporary accommodation.
    (Homelessness in Scotland: update to 30 September 2023)

  • 15,625 households in temporary accommodation waiting for a home.
    (Homelessness in Scotland: update to 30 September 2023)

Right now, we’re facing a national housing emergency. Thousands of families across Scotland are waiting for social housing. With a household becoming homeless in Scotland every 18 minutes even those in most urgent need are left trapped in temporary accommodation – some of them for months or even years.

Building more quality social homes in the right places will tackle the  root cause of homelessness, reduce child poverty and inequality, improve health, create jobs, help Scotland meet its climate targets and support economic growth.

This is why we’re demanding the Scottish Government commits to building new social homes so that everyone stuck in temporary accommodation will be able to access a social home quickly where they need it.

'Delivering more social homes remains the only way to meaningfully tackle Scotland’s housing emergency. We can’t afford not to.'
Alison Watson, Director of Shelter Scotland

How we got here

In 1975, 54% of Scottish homes were social housing.

The Right to Buy scheme was introduced in 1980 and abolished in 2014. It meant social tenants were able to buy their homes at a discounted rate. Over half a million homes were sold off in Scotland through the scheme. Investment in new social housing was slashed leaving a huge hole in the available housing stock.

In addition, decades of under investment in social housing has left a huge gap between affordable housing need and the social homes available to meet that need.

Currently, social housing makes up 24% of all homes in Scotland.